Careers with canines

Want to work with and for pets? Here are some careers and jobs in the world of dogs


Much of this information is condensed from a booklet by the American Kennel Club

The dog fancy consists of dog breeders, handlers, exhibitors, and all the service professionals and workers who take care of dogs, provide food and equipment, and operate and sanction thousands of dog events each year.

The all-breed dog show you visit with your family requires hundreds of workers, including dog handlers, judges, superintendents, and AKC staff. The service professions that keep dogs healthy and provide care when owners are on vacation or away from home include veterinarians, groomers, boarding kennels, trainers, dog sitters and walkers, and animal behaviorists.

None of these people could do their jobs without retailers and wholesalers to provide food, medical supplies, toys, and equipment Veterinarians need assistants and technicians and are backed by researchers who develop medicines and treatment techniques.

Communities need people who are familiar with dogs and dog behavior to serve as dog wardens, shelter staff, and handlers for police canine units. The military needs dog handlers for sentry duty and the US Department of Agriculture uses Beagles and Beagle trainers to check airports for contraband in luggage.

Some opportunities also exist for writers, illustrators, and photographers who love working with dogs.

Here are some thumbnail sketches of various canine careers.

Dog handler

Many purebred dogs are shown by their owners, but many owners do not have the time to travel every weekend in search of championship points and other awards, so they hire professional handlers to do the job. Handlers may travel with a dozen dogs of the same breed or of two or more and enter shows most weekends.

Clients pay handlers to take the dog in the ring. If the dog wins best of breed, a group placement, or best in show, the handler gets a bonus. The client also helps pay travel expenses and a board fee for the dog while it is living in the handler’s kennel. Out of this money, the handler must pay assistants, kennel expenses, meals, motel fees, motor home upkeep, and all other business expenses before drawing a salary.

Handling dogs is hard work. Handlers work with their dogs every day to keep them in top physical and mental condition, to keep their coats healthy, and to teach them to stand and gait for the judge. Each dog gets only a two-minute examination in the ring, and handlers must make the best of those two minutes. Handlers also must be able to work with people so that clients will bring dogs to them. They negotiate contracts, advise owners on good shows to enter, and study judges to learn which ones like particular types of dogs.

A good handler enjoys the dog shows as well as the dogs, likes travel, and doesn’t mind long hours. If you’re interested in learning more about handling dogs, many handlers accept young people as assistants, and some breeders will arrange for a responsible teenager to borrow a dog for AKC junior handling competition.

Dog show judge

A judge needs an in-depth knowledge of dogs in general and of breeds in particular. That knowledge is gained by breeding dogs and learning to recognize the qualities that make a champion in one or two breeds. Many breeders who want to be judges also handle dogs of several breeds so they learn about others besides their own.

Judges also need to learn the ropes at a dog show, so they volunteer to serve on show committees and steward for working judges. Stewards help the judge by handing armbands to competitors, calling dogs into the ring in proper order, and making sure the ribbons and prizes are ready when the judge needs them.

As you gain dog knowledge, you can practice judging at matches. Matches are for puppies and inexperienced dogs and do not award points towards championships.

Once you are knowledgeable about your breed, you can apply to the AKC for approval as a judge of your breed only. In order to add more breeds, you have to study, do more match assignments, and attend seminars with people who are knowledgeable about each breed.

Some of the requirements for judging that first breed are: at least 10 years involvement in the sport (showing dogs, working at dog shows, breeding dogs, etc.); breeding and raising at least four litters from one breed; and producing at least two champions from those litters.

Judging is not a job, it is an avocation done for the love of dogs and the sport. Judges earn a small fee along with travel expenses, but they have regular weekday jobs or have a retirement income.

Show superintendent

A show superintendent handles everything from taking entries and printing the show catalog to providing the equipment and workers to set up and tear down the event. They work closely with the club show committee to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Some superintendents work for large companies that set up dozens of shows each year; some are family operations or individuals who do a handful of shows. The best way to find out about the business is to talk to the superintendent at an all-breed show. He can easily be found in a special tent or area set aside for his crew.

AKC staff

The American Kennel Club employs hundreds of dog lovers in dozens of jobs ranging from the business offices to the field representatives. There are departments to handle club affairs, performance events, publicity, education, and legislation. For more information, contact AKC on the web ( or write AKC education department, 5580 Centerview Drive, Raleigh, NC 27606.


Groomers help pet owners keep their dogs in good shape as well as help prepare dogs for the show ring. Many breeds have special grooming requirements, and groomers must learn them all.

Groomers must be prepared to handle shy dogs, aggressive dogs, old dogs, squirmy dogs, and frightened dogs and do so gently and firmly. They bathe, brush, comb, trim, shave, clip nails, clean ears, and do flea treatments.

Groomers can work out of their own homes with a few clients, can work for another groomer or in a pet supply store or veterinary clinic, or can open a shop of their own. Grooming is hard work, especially on hands, wrists, and shoulders, but good groomers can make a comfortable living.


Dog trainers fit into one of three categories: they teach dogs, owners, or both. Some trainers run group classes to help owners learn how to teach dogs to have good manners. Some trainers work with owners who want to compete in obedience or agility competitions. And some train the dog.

Some trainers specialize in dogs with behavior problems; others teach dogs to hunt, herd, compete in schutzhund, or for search and rescue or service work.

Dog trainers may have their own business; work at a boarding kennel, pet supply store, or veterinary clinic; or get a job with a service dog organization, a police department, or an animal shelter. Good dog trainers attend seminars in various training methods, read lots of training books, and observe other trainers at work – after they have trained dogs of their own. You can get started by joining a 4-H club or taking your pet through classes at an obedience club.

Dog sitter or dog walker

These two jobs provide an easy entry into the world of dogs for responsible young people. Just offer to help a neighbor, friend, or relative by taking care of a pet while they are on vacation or walking the dog once or twice a day. You can make a few dollars this way and learn about different kinds of dogs.

Animal behaviorist

Some trainers and veterinarians are also behaviorists who study dog reactions to their environment and help owners solve problems. Veterinary behaviorists are board-certified specialists. Some psychologists also have degrees in animal behavior. Trainers who advertise as behaviorists may specialize in problem-solving, but they generally do not have a college degree in animal behavior.

Boarding kennels

Boarding kennels offer another good opportunity for responsible young people to get involved with dogs. You can do everything from clean cages to feeding and walking dogs and can learn how to groom if the kennel also has a grooming shop. Boarding kennels require good business sense, an ability to work with people so clients will come back, attention to kennel maintenance, and above all, concern for the dogs.

Boarding kennels are very busy during the summer and through school holidays, so may be the perfect opportunity to make some spending money while learning a trade.

These are a few of the opportunities to make a career in the world of dogs. We’ll finish up in the next part with a list of contacts to help you get started.

The next article in this series discusses artists and craftsmen; pet supply manufacturer, store owner, or worker; medical professions; animal control officer; shelter worker; police canine handler; writer; and photographer. And we’ll add a list of contacts at the end.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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